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Factoids Toasts Wit and Humor Anecdotes

Eileen Houlihan
Many Americans don't realize that Halloween was never celebrated here in America until the arrival of the famine-era Irish. The U.S. was a Protestant country with a Puritan leaning. When the Irish came in the 1840's, they brought their own brand of Catholicism with them. This included the Halloween rite, with its eccentric mix of Christian and pre-Christian customs.
Notes: Celtic Holloween

Eileen Houlihan
Some Irish customs were meant to divine your fortune for the coming year. My mother always had barmbrack (from Bairan Breac - meaning "speckled loaf"). This is a type of fruitcake containing charms that foretold your future. If you got the slice with the ring, you would soon marry. A button or thimble meant you would remain a bachelor or a spinster. A coin, of course, foretold wealth, while a rag predicted poverty.
Notes: Celtic Holloween

Eileen Houlihan
To discover whom you would marry, you tried to peel an apple all in one go, without breaking the peel. If you succeeded, you threw the peel over your shoulder. The way it came to rest on the floor would give you the initial of the one you would marry.
Notes: Celtic Holloween

Eileen Houlihan
It was once believed that at Samhain, the Celtic New Year, the veil between our world and the spirit world was very thin. The festival of Samhain (sow-en), celebrated on November 1st, was a gateway to the otherworld, when spirits wandered the earth in search of new bodies to possess. People made their homes as inhospitable as possible,so the spirits would be less likely to enter them. All fires - candles, fireplace, etc. - were extinguished to make the house dark and uninviting. The tradition of dressing in Halloween costumes and painting faces in an ugly way also came about because people wanted to make themselves unappealing to these wandering spirits. Even loud noises were encouraged to frighten the spirits away! The holiday is very much about avoiding wandering spirits, whatever you may have heard about Samhain rituals to honor the dead.

Eileen Houlihan
Stingy Jack's Lantern
The jack-o'-lantern comes from a story told in many variations. Here's an interesting version: There was a man named Jack, who was notorious for his sinful ways - the worst of which was stinginess. When the Devil came to claim Jack's soul one evening, Jack cleverly persuaded him to have a drink first. Being so stingy, Jack made the Devil pay for the drink. To pay for the drink, the Devil turned himself into a sixpence, thinking he could turn himself back when the barman wasn't looking. Stingy Jack immediately grabbed hold of the sixpence and jammed it into his pocket along with his rosary. You can imagine the devil's discomfort at being in the same pocket with a rosary. The Devil pleaded with Jack to release him, which Jack did, on the condition that the Devil wouldn't bother him again for a full year. After a year, the Devil returned to take Jack. But somehow Jack persuaded him to climb a tree. Then, Jack carved a cross in the tree, and the poor old Devil was stuck there for a long time. When, at last, Jack grew old and died, he was refused entry into heaven because of his stinginess. But when he approached hell, the Devil was so fed up with his practical jokes, he turned him away as well! Poor Jack was doomed to wander until Judgment Day. But the Devil gave him a hot coal from the hobs of hell to help him see his way around. Jack placed the coal in a turnip and is supposedly still wandering with his "lantern, waiting his chance to plead his case. In America, pumpkins were more plentiful than turnips, and probably easier to carve. Hence the modern Jack Lantern o origin. After all this time, it's amazing how Halloween clings to America's culture. This year, as you celebrate Halloween, you can remember your Celtic forbears and wish one another a happy and prosperous New Year.

Regina Sexton
During the dark hours of Halloween Eve, adults on Inis Moor, the largest of the Aran Islands, simply aren't themselves. No one goes out until about 9 p.m. Then, as the pubs fill slowly, a visitor feels overwhelmed by the complete silence. To preserve their disguises, no one speaks a word. Drink orders are given to the barman on hand-written scraps of paper, and regular Guinness drinkers order gin and tonics to create confusion about their identities. People even drink through straws to avoid lifting up their masks.
Notes: Aran Island Holloween

Regina Sexton
Many of the island's residents begin planning elaborate costumes months in advance, and spent considerable time and effort making them. Generally, homemade costumes are the most prized and respected. But if you prefer, you can buy ready-made rubber masks of Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton, the Pope and Queen Elizabeth, among others, in a small shop on the westward point of the island. Outsiders are welcomed in the pubs during the evening. In fact, small groups of people often come out from Galway to take part. At midnight, the silence lifts, and everyone collects in the island's Big Hall for a Halloween dance where prizes are given for the best costumes.
Notes: Aran Island Holloween

Around Christmastime, you'll still find the odd farm building out in the Irish countryside that looks like it's just been whitewashed. Long ago, farm families cleaned and then whitewashed every building on the farm in December. They were covered in white paint or limewash, to symbolically purify them for the coming of the savior. The tradition traces back thousands of years, not just through Celtic culture, but through other Central European cultures as well.
Notes: Christmas WhiteWashing

Having an evergreen-type Christmas tree is a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland. Years ago, whole families went out to find holly bushes and ivy to decorate the mantelpiece and other parts of the house. Finding a holly bush with lots of berries was considered a harbinger of good luck in the coming year. Holly was also used because it allowed poor people to decorate their homes in the same way as those who were better off. The bush was so common in Ireland in winter there was plenty for everyone.
Notes: Before Christmas Trees

On January 6th, is a traditional day for Irish women to leave their housework behind and go out with each other to have fun. It's a very old holiday, kept alive today by a few enthusiastic Irish ladies.
Notes: "Little Women's Christmas"

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